GCU Dance brings home 3rd national Game Day title
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
It’s a three-peat.
For the third year in a row, Grand Canyon University’s Dance team brought home a national title.
The team won the Game Day category in Division 1 of the Universal Dance Association College Dance Team National Championship, which wrapped up Wednesday at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The team emerged triumphant even in a year when a global pandemic limited or halted athletic events and the crowds that attend them.
It was one of two wins for GCU at the two-day event. The University’s Cheer team took first place in the Small Coed category in Division 1 of the Universal Cheerleaders Association College Cheerleading National Championship.
“This is our third time winning our division,” said Dance team coach Jacque Genung-Koch. “This is a big deal. It’s just back-to-back-to-back.”
Game Day competition puts the spotlight on the sideline traditions teams perform every weekend at home. Judges evaluate the teams on their ability to lead the crowd, the execution of their skills, motion technique and overall routine.
During the performance, judges can call for a fight song, game situation chant or timeout routine. The competing teams must be ready to perform any of those requests and muster as much energy and spirit as possible to impress the judges.
The Game Day title is especially important to the Dance team. GCU is known nationally for its electrifying game day atmosphere, thanks to its Spirit teams and its rabidly loyal and excitable student section, the Havocs (an atmosphere the website FanSided in 2019 said was “one of the most fun atmospheres in the country”).
“We’re a game day school – that’s important to us,” said Genung-Koch, just minutes after the team learned it had dominated the field once again in Game Day competition – “We’re still on Cloud 9,” she said breathlessly after the all-out team celebration.
Not that re-creating that atmosphere – the “biggest party in college basketball,” as GCU calls it — was easy in a year whose flames were doused by COVID-19. The games are on-the-job training of sorts for the Spirit teams, which not only perform at those games but, alongside the Havocs, hype up the crowds.
That’s difficult to do in a year when there were much smaller crowds to hype up. Games were students only, along with a limited number of fans on the teams’ guest lists. Athletic and Spirit teams played and performed in socially distanced venues, such as GCU Arena, which was filled with cardboard-cutout audience members to fill empty seats.
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Genung-Koch feels blessed that the Dance team was able to even be at those games.
“We’ve just had a year where the University has really fought to have us present at games and finding a way. A lot of universities straight-up told their dance team, ‘No.’ … But we were at basketball games. It wasn’t the same way. We weren’t down on the court, but we were present at every single GCU basketball game. That’s huge. I don’t even know if there was another university that was able to do that.”
She added that the Spirit teams could have stepped back and taken a lighter year and there would have been nothing wrong with that, but GCU chose not to do that even though it was taxing and exhausting mentally and emotionally.
Gearing up for competition in a COVID-19 year spurred them on with even more determination and intention than before.
“It was definitely that push to inspire everyone,” Genung-Koch said.
The atmosphere of those packed-arena basketball games? It was something the team had to simulate, and it was especially important to do so this year since 50% of the athletes on the Game Day competition team were rookies.
Beyond trying to simulate the atmosphere of those packed games before nationals, the team hones its skills alongside other collegiate dance teams across the nation at dance camps. But they couldn’t go to camp this year because of COVID, though camp instructors were able to make it to campus to work with the team.
Practices were a little more distanced than usual, and then there were the endless COVID tests.
Every team member has been tested weekly since July and twice a week as nationals approached. They wore masks at every practice and every workout. The masks didn’t come off until competition time.
“Every time COVID said, ‘No,’ we said, ‘But where’s the Yes’?” Genung-Koch said, adding that despite the year’s challenges “they definitely stepped it up and worked hard for one another and represented the school well.”
What’s behind the team’s success? Is it the choreography? A signature move? The ability of the team to be so synchronized that it looks like one unit?
Genung-Koch says that it’s this: “It’s that light that’s inside them, a light that shines because of Jesus – getting to be His light on the floor for the whole nation to see. We’re God’s Dance team. He’s my head coach. … It is because of the faith that they have.”
Genung-Koch, who is a finalist for the National Dance Coaches Association’s 2021 College Coach of the Year (the winner will be announced in mid-May), wanted to shine the light on the other Spirit squads, such as the Thundering Heard Pep Band and Thunder, who supported them. Then there’s the Cheer team, which brought home its own win.
“They made GCU history, as well; it was a good day for the Lopes, she said. “We just LOVE being Lopes.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
Varsity TV: Staying true — Grand Canyon Dance Game Day
GCU Today: Dance team takes GCU fire to national win
GCU Today: Dance team reigns as it pours out God’s love